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The Economics of Human Relationships

In: Handbook of the Economics of Giving, Altruism and Reciprocity


  • Sacco, Pier Luigi
  • Vanin, Paolo
  • Zamagni, Stefano


Behind my reciprocation of a friend's gift may lie both instrumental reasons (I expect further future gifts) and `communicative' reasons (I want to establish or confirm a friendship per se). In a theory of rational individual action, such `communicative' reasons can be incorporated as an argument of an agent's objective function. This chapter starts by reviewing a recent literature that takes this direction and introduces `relational' concerns through the concept of `socially provided goods'. From a `relational' perspective, however, individual intentions are not all that matters: a relation is characterized by the two (or more) persons linked and by the kind of link they have. This perspective, which in our view should complement the more traditional, individualistic one, is particularly suited to embed individual motivations in their social context and to study their co-evolution. In particular, we focus on the conditions under which reciprocity and altruism may survive and even spread over as social norms. Drawing from the literature on the dynamics of social norms, we argue that the combination of individual incentives and the forces of social selection may lead to a contraposition between a society's material success and its well-being, i.e., between its `vitality' and its `satisfaction'. Finally, we consider that the recent literature on the economic analysis of human relationships invites to a new reading of the `classics' of economics and of moral and political philosophy. Both the new and the old literature point at the need to broaden the scope of economic modeling, to lay down the building blocks of a new, up-to-date approach to political economy that is equipped to tackle the challenges posed by advanced industrial societies in their social, cultural and economic selection dimensions.

Suggested Citation

  • Sacco, Pier Luigi & Vanin, Paolo & Zamagni, Stefano, 2006. "The Economics of Human Relationships," Handbook on the Economics of Giving, Reciprocity and Altruism, in: S. Kolm & Jean Mercier Ythier (ed.), Handbook of the Economics of Giving, Altruism and Reciprocity, edition 1, volume 1, chapter 9, pages 695-730, Elsevier.
  • Handle: RePEc:eee:givchp:1-09

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    Cited by:

    1. P. L. Sacco & M. Viviani, 2006. "La responsabilita' sociale d'Impresa - prospettive teoriche nel dibattito italiano," Working Papers 578, Dipartimento Scienze Economiche, Universita' di Bologna.
    2. Matías Membiela-Pollán & María Alló-Pazos & Carlos Pateiro-Rodríguez & Félix Blázquez-Lozano, 2019. "The Inefficiency of the Neoclassical Paradigm in the Promotion of Subjective Well-Being and Socioeconomic, and Environmental Sustainability: An Empirical Test for the Spanish Case," Sustainability, MDPI, Open Access Journal, vol. 11(24), pages 1-14, December.
    3. Marco Setti & Matteo Garuti, 2018. "Identity, Commons and Sustainability: An Economic Perspective," Sustainability, MDPI, Open Access Journal, vol. 10(2), pages 1-12, February.
    4. M. Savioli & R. Patuelli, 2016. "Social capital, institutions and policymaking," Working Papers wp1070, Dipartimento Scienze Economiche, Universita' di Bologna.
    5. Sontuoso, Alessandro, 2013. "A Dynamic Model of Belief-Dependent Conformity to Social Norms," MPRA Paper 53234, University Library of Munich, Germany.
    6. Mitrut, Andreea & Nordblom, Katarina, 2007. "Motives for Private Gift Transfers: Theory and Evidence from Romania," Working Papers in Economics 262, University of Gothenburg, Department of Economics, revised 30 Apr 2008.
    7. Julie A. Nelson, "undated". "Getting Past "Rational Man/Emotional Woman": How Far Have Research Programs in Happiness and Interpersonal Relations Progressed?," GDAE Working Papers 09-07, GDAE, Tufts University.
    8. Julie Nelson, 2010. "Getting past “rational man/emotional woman”: comments on research programs in happiness economics and interpersonal relations," International Review of Economics, Springer;Happiness Economics and Interpersonal Relations (HEIRS), vol. 57(2), pages 233-253, June.
    9. Mariana Hernandez-Crespo Gonstead & Rachana Chhin, 2020. "God’s Participatory Vision of a Global Symphony: Catholic Business Leaders Integrating Talents through Dispute and Shared Decision System Design," Humanistic Management Journal, Springer, vol. 5(1), pages 85-103, July.
    10. Alice Martini & Luca Spataro, 2018. "The Principle of Subsidiarity and the Ethical Factor in Giuseppe Toniolo’s Thought," Journal of Business Ethics, Springer, vol. 153(1), pages 105-119, November.
    11. Russell G. Pearce & Brendan M. Wilson, 2013. "Business ethics," Chapters, in: Luigino Bruni & Stefano Zamagni (ed.), Handbook on the Economics of Reciprocity and Social Enterprise, chapter 4, pages 49-58, Edward Elgar Publishing.
    12. Benedetto Gui & Luca Stanca, 2010. "Happiness and relational goods: well-being and interpersonal relations in the economic sphere," International Review of Economics, Springer;Happiness Economics and Interpersonal Relations (HEIRS), vol. 57(2), pages 105-118, June.
    13. Zamagni, Stefano, 2005. "Gratuita' e agire economico: il senso del volontariato," AICCON Working Papers 9-2005, Associazione Italiana per la Cultura della Cooperazione e del Non Profit.
    14. Argandoña, Antonio, 2011. "Stakeholder theory and value creation," IESE Research Papers D/922, IESE Business School.
    15. Lorna Zischka, 2014. "Social Capital Stocks, Giving Flows and Welfare Outcomes," Economics Discussion Papers em-dp2014-04, Department of Economics, Reading University.
    16. Raul Caruso, 2009. "Crime and Sport Participation in Itay: Evidence from Panel Data Regional Analysis over the Period 1997-2003.\," Working Papers 0904, International Association of Sports Economists;North American Association of Sports Economists.
    17. Caruso, Raul, 2011. "Crime and sport participation: Evidence from Italian regions over the period 1997–2003," Journal of Behavioral and Experimental Economics (formerly The Journal of Socio-Economics), Elsevier, vol. 40(5), pages 455-463.
    18. Raul Caruso, 2011. "Relational Goods at Work! Crime and Sport Participation in Italy: Evidence from Panel Data Regional Analysis over the Period 1997–2003," Chapters, in: Wladimir Andreff (ed.), Contemporary Issues in Sports Economics, chapter 3, Edward Elgar Publishing.
    19. José Atilano Pena-López & José Manuel Sánchez-Santos & Matías Membiela-Pollán, 2017. "Individual Social Capital and Subjective Wellbeing: The Relational Goods," Journal of Happiness Studies, Springer, vol. 18(3), pages 881-901, June.
    20. Zamagni, Stefano, 2006. "L'economia come se la persona contasse: verso una teoria economica relazionale," AICCON Working Papers 32-2006, Associazione Italiana per la Cultura della Cooperazione e del Non Profit.
    21. Mitrut, Andreea & Nordblom, Katarina, 2010. "Social norms and gift behavior: Theory and evidence from Romania," European Economic Review, Elsevier, vol. 54(8), pages 998-1015, November.
    22. Bénédicte de Peyrelongue & Olivier Masclef & Valérie Guillard, 2017. "The Need to Give Gratuitously: A Relevant Concept Anchored in Catholic Social Teaching to Envision the Consumer Behavior," Journal of Business Ethics, Springer, vol. 145(4), pages 739-755, November.
    23. Sacco, Pier Luigi & Viviani, Michele, 2005. "Corporate Social Responsibility: theoretical perspectives in the Italian Debate," AICCON Working Papers 11-2005, Associazione Italiana per la Cultura della Cooperazione e del Non Profit, revised 03 Feb 2007.

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    JEL classification:

    • Z13 - Other Special Topics - - Cultural Economics - - - Economic Sociology; Economic Anthropology; Language; Social and Economic Stratification


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